Carolyn Hax Live: 'Even the dog'

Jul 31, 2020

Advice columnist Carolyn Hax took your comments about her current advice column and questions about the strange train we call life. Her answers may appear online or in an upcoming column.

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Hello, everybody, what's new in Paradise?

Someone, I once thought was the love of my life has since gotten married and is expecting. I find myself wishing the worst for the entire family. even the dog. I readily admit this is horrible and if something bad did happen I would feel TERRIBLE. The problem is I can't stop. My therapist says it's motivated by jealousy and my feelings of defeat in this area, marriage and kids, and that time will help. But since I don't know if/when that will happen, I don't want to continue thinking these awful things. Any tips?

I've got a bizarre one for you, but it popped into my head immediately and now I actually want to try it myself.

Do you have any particular talent/skill/hobby/interest/inclination that would lend itself to making art? So, drawing, painting, collage, fiber work, dance, music, songwriting, poetry, video ... please don't be limited by my limited imagination here.

Take your rage, and paint/draw/paste/act out/write/sing/film it. As many times and in as many forms as you need to until there's no rage left to spew.

Make it tangible. 

Anything to this?

Working title for whatever it is: "Even the Dog."

My fiancé and I postponed our wedding, which was originally scheduled for June. It's currently on the calendar for next August, but now that it's so far in the future and all the work we'd done to prepare has been wrecked, I've lost all the interest I had in planning it and would really prepare to just self-officiate now and be done with it. The problem is that while it's a second marriage for me, it's the first for my fiancé, and he remains really hopeful about having the big celebration we were planning for. His many family members were all contributing to the wedding in various ways, and I think there is a lot of general disappointment. I feel torn about how much I should be pushing for what I want to do (just get married now and cancel the wedding), since I have already gotten my turn for a big floofy wedding. But I don't want to resent feeling that I'm doing it just to make his mom happy, either. How do we piece out our respective preferences as we plan for this wedding (or not)?

Hm. I think the thing you push for right now is a break from thinking or doing anything about it for a bit. It is a lot to ask to go through all the legitimately difficult work of: planning and organizing and managing expectations and then the stress of the aforesaid; and then managing the disappointment and frustration of having to cancel and throw it all away; and then navigating the weirdly normalish but definitely not normal hellscape of Pandemic USA; and then ginning up whoo-hooo! enthusiasm to start the process all over again on the promise but not certainty that things will snap back to normal again by August 2021. That just sounds like a lot for any psyche to carry, doesn't it?

So, again: Push for some mental time off. Counted off in weeks or months, not just days. 

Then, when you're ready, bring a more open mind to the whole thing. And heart, so you can go all- or closer-to-all-in on a floofy valentine to, if nothing else, the ability to celebrate. You don't even have to think about it as just a wedding. Be happy about the marriage part, obviously, but then see if you can put some joy into the idea of people coming together to be joyful for whatever reason. Sounds pretty good to me right now.

Hi Carolyn, My husband and I have been married 10 years. Over this time, a pretty even breakdown of chores has emerged. These are the daily and weekly things (groceries, laundry, lawn care, etc.). That all goes really smoothly and we're both pretty happy with the breakdown. Where things are not even, and when I'm getting more and more frustrated and run down are the non-regular but still part of normal life things (i.e. washing machine breaks and needs repairs scheduled, switching to a new bank, problem with electric company billing). My husband just cannot seem to deal with these things. He will ignore whatever the issue is until it is so huge that it takes 10x longer and 10x more money to deal with. Every. Single. Time. I can ask repeatedly if he's gotten around to whatever it is is was going to do and the answer is always "Not yet." Eventually I just take care of the issue and seethe internally that once again I'm having to do it. We both work full time, yet I'm the one who takes care of all the unusual chores. When I've tried to talk to him about this, he gets frustrated and says things like "I guess now that I'm an adult I just don't get to ever have fun anymore." I'm not asking him to never have fun, I'm just asking that he take maybe 1 hour a month to deal with whatever the task is. I just want him to be an equal partner and not shift every nuisance onto me. How do I approach this with him? Am I just doomed to being the adult in the relationship while he gets to spend his days off watching ESPN? (BTW, we are in different industries so our days off don't line up so it's not like he is in the house watching me take care of this stuff.) I know in the past when someone refuses to do their part you've advocated for just not doing it for them (like only cooking for yourself instead of grumbling and making dinner every night), but that really doesn't work for a lot of this. The billing issue has to be fixed. We need a working washing machine. Thanks.

Okay, so, right now you have a chore distribution that looks like this:

You: ABCDE plus any and all nuisances

He: VWXYZ and ESPN 

What you need is:

You: ABCD plus any and all nuisances

He: EVWXYZ and ESPN

You'd have to get him to agree that nuisances add to your overall *regular* schedule, even though no one thing happens regularly. But it's reasonable to build in "nuisance allowance," because there's always a nuisance somewhere and it's mental load, so it's legitimate.

The "I guess now that I'm an adult I just don't get to ever have fun anymore" thing is part of your nuisance load, btw. Holy *.

 

I have always thought of myself as an introvert. (FWIW, Meyers-Briggs usually tells me so, too.) But now suspect I am a shy extravert instead. Random example: I was on a real high after working at my precinct on election day. My (introvert but more socially adept) friend said how exhausting it sounded. I want to exercise this muscle more, but am struggling with how put this side of myself out there, especially these days when I’m unlikely to find a group of strangers to rally. Any good ideas?

First idea that sounds good to me is mentally wadding up and throwing away any labels for your emotional self. You are what you are and you need what you need, regardless of what a test-about-which-there-is-a-lot-of-disagreement-if-not-open-skepticism-about-its-worth says about you. There's nothing that says you're a fixed quantity for sure. You can have phases during which it suits you to be out and rallying a crowd, and phases when your inner homebody won't be ignored. Listen for and honor your own inclinations--exactly as you're doing here--and you'll be okay.

Second idea, consider that it isn't the group of strangers that makes the rally such a gratifying exercise, but instead the thing you were rallying for. So, the political process was energizing for you, maybe? Try following that impulse, look for volunteer spots on campaigns or a bigger role in local elections and see whether that creates the kind of opportunities you're looking for. If it wasn't politics per se, then it could have also been pitching in to your own community that worked for you. That's another theme to follow to see if it yields the kind of yay-me high you were on at your precinct: Join a local service group, say.

I hope this makes sense--to find a cause that you can follow *to* the crowd, instead of just hunting for crowds. 

My friend's daughter is getting married and the groom's parents are tightwads. . The couple had to cancel their big wedding and are having a simple ceremony with just family, later this year. Hopefully, they'll be able to have their originally planned wedding with friends and more guests next summer. As the parents of the bride, my friend and her husband will be paying for the entire wedding and reception next year. Is there a tactful way to ask the groom's parents to split the bill for the reception dinner at this year's smaller do?

I have questions.

Are they really "tightwads" (ouch) or do they, perhaps, think people old enough to get married are also old enough to save and budget for a wedding they can afford? Or, do they think that even with the disappointment of having to cancel, it's a bit excessive to expect parents to bankroll both a simple aw-bummer-pandemic-makeup wedding and the original big wedding and reception a few months later?

Not having the answers I need, I will say only this:

If your friend were asking me, then I would tell her to write off the groom's parents completely as a source of cash or anything else for this wedding. Unless they had a say in all this planning, expecting them to cheerfully pay up is not fair.

And, even if they were vocally on board with planning the big-plus-small double bill, and then ran away when it came time to fund it, there's this: Unmet expectations are one of the top sources of human angst. If your friend can set her expectations of them at 0, then that's one stress she can cross off the wedding-stress list.

All this being said: There are roles for families on both sides in "traditional" weddings. The bride's side can certainly ask the groom's side if they intend to host, for example, the rehearsal dinner, "since that's traditionally the groom's family's territory and we don't want to step on your toes."

How's that for some seriously manipulative courtesy. Gah.

But, really, if your friend is spending more than she wants to, then it's on her to let the couple know they need to scale it down.

Carolyn - I was having a hard time with work, and a hard time in my relationship, when my mother had a stroke in my presence recently. She is fine now (fully recovered). It was the scariest moment of my life. I rushed her to the hospital thinking I was going to lose her. Now, she is (thank god) OK. I am not. I feel so much whiplash. It is so hard to focus on work - it seems meaningless in the scheme of things. I had been so focused on my problems with work and my relationship that the week before her stroke I was stressed, preoccupied, and sad. If the stroke had been worse, that might have been my last week with her. I don't really know what I am saying - or asking - I am just having a hard time dealing right now. Nothing seems important except health and happiness, and spending quality time with friends and family. My thoughts aren't coherent, my head hurts, and I am tired. I don't feel like I can dig back in and fight another day for the things I was pursuing before the stroke.

I'm sorry. Can you get any kind of a break? This could be my answer to about a dozen questions today, and it will be, actually. You're overloaded, it's normal, probably most of us are in some way--so, postpone anything postpone-able and clear space for yourself to rest. Some of that space-clearing can just be an emotional gesture, where you let yourself off the hook for not being on your A-game every waking minute. Suspend all inner critiques of your performance and, at your first opportunity, go watch something cheesy and entertaining, or whatever it is that reliably gets you out of your head. All the same stuff will be waiting for you when you're finished, of course, but you will handle it better if your mind has been somewhere else for a while, even just a few hours.

I am one of the millions in this country -- fulltime job, toddler, no childcare. I am hardly the first to point out how difficult things are right now. Other than my husband, I vent to very few people about the difficulties, simply because there is so little time to TALK to anyone. But on the rare occasion that I do, I find it really hard not to get violently angry at the suggestions these usually wise confidants make. My mom's suggestion: "Just save all your work for after the toddler goes to sleep." Which assumes that I have absolutely no need for sleep myself and can somehow survive 20-hour days. My friend's suggestion: "Everyone knows parents are suffering. Just don't apologize for needing more time to do things at work." Which is unrealistic considering I still have personal standards, career goals, and a boss who is also on the hook if my work isn't done or is done poorly. I know these people mean well. But I just feel that every suggestion being circulated to suffering working parents is unrealistic and sort of adds onto the suffering. Am I being too harsh?

No, not even a wee little bit. You are exactly right, and you're entitled to all of your outrage. The current conditions are a Pez dispenser of s*** and don't let anyone tell you it would be candy if you only did X or Y.

It sounds as if you need to say explicitly to your few confidants that suggestions are not helpful because there are no helpful suggestions, unless they somehow involve someone else coming in to assume some of the work. The math is clear. You used to have 1 person over 24 hours doing A or B; now it's one person over 24 hours doing A -and- B. This gets easier only if you add a person, add hours, or subtract responsibilities. That's it. 

So, tell them you really just need listening, please, and sympathy/support, unless they can add a person to the rotation or hours to the day or assume a responsibility for you.

I am, utterly and powerlessly, sorry you and the millions got stuck holding the Pez.

My boyfriend decided to make the switch from cigarettes to vaping about a year ago. He loves it because he no longer has to inconvenience himself (he can vape inside the home, at work, at night in bed, etc). I’m proud of him for quitting cigarettes, but he vapes at such a high frequency that he’s consuming the nicotine equivalent to a pack of cigarettes every two days. It really stresses me out to see him vaping 24/7. Our current agreement is that he doesn’t vape in my bedroom at my apartment, but otherwise he vapes where he wants. We’re very happy together and thinking about moving in together at the end of my lease, but one of my main sticking points is that I don’t want him to be vaping constantly around me and the apartment. He doesn’t like the thought of being restricted in his own home and has no motivation to quit. Is there a compromise to be reached here - maybe no vaping in the bed so I don’t have to wake up to it, only vaping outside like regular cigarettes.... something else? For context, we’re mid twenties and have only been dating a couple years.

Forgot to mention that the vaping particularly freaks me out when we’re in the midst of a pandemic that targets the lungs... it’s not just that the habit is annoying, I also worry about his health! :(

He has no interest in a compromise, so, there is no compromise. If you don't want to be with someone who vapes at each and every opportunity, then he is not the guy. If he is the guy, then you get the vaping (and the lung peril) as part of the deal. I'm sorry.

You're certainly entitled to ask for a no-vaping-in-the-bedroom/apartment arrangement, and certainly he can say yea or nay to that, but fundamentally this is something he wants access to constantly, so even if he agrees to limit it, it will be a limit that holds only to appease you and not because he think's it's smart or safe or right. And it will be a part of him/being with him that you're always looking at as unappealing and wishing it would go away. That kind of stuff, on his side and on yours, gets heaver the longer you try to carry it.

My dad and I have been estranged since I was 18. He left my mom when I was 12, after cheating for years which I was aware of because he brought the woman around when my mom was working. He threatened me constantly that if I told her I would be responsible for my mom dying (she had a heart condition). After he married my stepmother, visiting them was horrible. My stepsister (and stepmother on occasion) used to say the cruelest things to me about my looks, my weight, lack of friends and boyfriends as compared to my stepsister and when I’d tell my dad, he’d just say they were right and what did I expect him to do about it. When I left for college I stopped trying with him and avoided him and his awful family. This year, my dad started sending me constant messages demanding to talk and clear this petty stuff (he didn’t write stuff) up. I texted him telling him I want no contact ever and then blocked him everywhere, but he has been creating multiple accounts in order to bypass this, and he’s in IT so he’s really good at fooling me and setting things up so I see his messages. He even uses my elderly grandmother to send me letters and just seeing his handwriting on the envelopes can ruin my day but my grandmother won’t stop giving them to me. She says just tear them up and that’s what I do. I hate the constant vigilance online, always suspecting any message is from one of my dad’s sock puppets. I just want him to understand that I don’t want to see him and for him to respect that and leave me alone. I refuse to give in to his bullying and see him or talk to him, so what do I do?

I wonder whether your state laws are on harassment--whether this meets the definition and whether the remedies have any teeth. Worth running by a lawyer.

As for the other stuff, over the years I've heard from people who have gotten some relief by having a neutral third party go through their mail for them, basically to sweep for these unwelcome mines. That wouldn't work with your grandma, and it would be burdensome to deal with your daily email and text influx this way, but maybe when you;re feeling particularly fragile you can enlist a sympathetic helper or two to check things for you.

As for Grandma--this is tough stuff, but, is it to the point where you need to stop accepting anything from her? Being an elderly Grandma does not give her a get-out-of-abusive-boundary-violations-free card. If the letters affect you that profoundly, then you can take serious steps to stop them. If Grandma won't respect your needs, then you don't need anything from your grandma. 

Last thing, but could come first: Therapy. Have you ever sought any? Especially given the horrific treatment you received as a child--I am so sorry--it sounds as if you have done an amazing job taking care of yourself; maybe it's time to let someone take care of you.

 

This sounds like an etiquette problem, but to me it feels more like a boundary issue and I don't know where the boundary lines should be drawn. I've been together with my wife for almost 20 years (both of us are women), and I also have a friendship with another woman (straight, married) that predates my knowing my wife. In those first early years of my relationship, Nancy met my wife a few times, and they were both cordially polite to each other, but did not really hit it off. We moved out of the area so this really wasn't a problem since my only contact with Nancy since then has been the occasional letter. Last year, however, I received a Christmas card from Nancy and my wife pointed out that it was addressed to me and not to the both of us, or even "& family". She felt this was disrespectful, whereas I hadn't given it any thought, which also bothered her. My wife didn't ask me to do anything about this situation, but I'm feeling uncomfortable that she found my response inadequate. I had no explanation other than the truth as I saw it: "I don't think it was an intentional slight". I'm feeling equally uncomfortable, however, at the prospect of asking a friend -- no matter how politely -- to address her next Christmas card to us as a couple, rather than to me as her friend, so she doesn't inadvertently annoy my wife, a woman she hasn't seen or talked to in decades. I have some friendships where I could broach such a personal subject quite frankly, but this is not one of them. I'm really at a loss as to what is the right course of action.

How about, nothing? 

Well, not completely nothing, but close to it:

1. Stop making the "I don't think it was an intentional slight" argument, because what you think is irrelevant. What is relevant is what Nancy intended and what your wife perceived. Since you don't know what Nancy intended, but do know what your wife perceived, the only response that shows both compassion and pragmatism is to validate your wife. "I don't know what Nancy was thinking, but, yes, I can totally see why you see it as petty. I'm sorry she did that. It's pretty juvenile if she meant it as a dig."

2. (Here's the exciting part about doing nothing.) Do nothing. If another card comes addressed only to you, then it comes. It's a card. And yes, I realize I just answered a question ^^^ by treating a mailed paper product as a serious emotional transgression and now I'm saying it's just a card, but, look at the circumstances here: Your marriage is 20 years in and going strong. Your friendship with Nancy is down to occasional correspondence. Even if Nancy means it as a swipe against your wife or a political attack, Nancy is not central enough to your being to strike at anyone's core here. (And if she is, then her role in it is symbolic at this point and it's the core itself that needs your attention.)

BONUS CONCRETE-GESTURE ROUND: 

3. Send a card this year addressed to Nancy and her spouse signed by you and your spouse. It'll be the most courteous bird-flip ever in recorded history, or thereabouts. Bonus to the bonus, if Nancy was merely mistaken or absent-minded or didn't think her gesture through--i.e., of your wife is indeed mistaken in her perception--then you haven't burned anything down between you and Nancy.

Hi Carolyn, Hope you and yours are staying well through the pandemic. My kids (15 and 13) will be schooling online for at least the next few months. They are antsy, sad, miss their friends. I am sad for them but understand that it could be worse (as in the case of their cousins, whose graduation year got totally messed up). Over the past couple of months, both of my kids have taken up hobbies that keep them productively occupied for a lot of time, but also require expensive equipment and supplies. My husband and I are trying to figure out the most reasonable way to handle this. Normally we would not break the bank on luxury items, we would give them chances to earn them as special treats. But these are not normal times. Plus, Older Kid was supposed to work a small job this summer that would have earned her some spending money that she could have used to buy the goods (in her case, fancy hand-dyed yarn). So do we relax our budget and do whatever we can to keep the kids happy at home? Or...other?

If you're able to, then, yes.

In general, I think compensating for all the ways the world is suddenly saying "no" by saying "yes" wherever you responsibly can, even where you wouldn't have said yes six months ago, is a reasonable response to crisis conditions. The fact that your kids have found ways to be creative and productive makes it an easy "yes," I would think.

If money is  an issue, then, two suggestions: Brainstorm with them about ways to earn money safely; see if Older Kid can add dyeing her own yarn to her skills. The materials are just an internet away, I would think, along with all other craft supplies. 

The first might come to nothing, and the second might not save you a lot (though would add to the time O.K. is occupied and to the pride of product, no small things), and you're on your own for a 3rd idea for your younger kid, but, it's a start, I hope.

We never spent time with my dad's extended family but one of his siblings and I have a lot of similar interests. I needed to know something about my dad's family and he didn't know so I emailed her, asked, and we now exchange emails regularly (we haven't spoken since I was a teen and I'm in my 30s now). My parents are Not Pleased. My mom is actually really upset that I am talking with her (in high school she made me stop talking to her completely). My father just tells me she will eventually hate me, give it time, she's a horrible person and not really interested in me at all. Let's skip over the emotional baggage that comes from all the times my parents told me people have no interest in me and are just using me. There's clearly something that really bothers my mom but she won't openly discuss it with me and so I can only guess what the issue is. For example, I would not be surprised if my mom actively sabotaged my relationship with this person in ways I don't know about when I was younger and she's afraid it'll come up. Am I wrong to continue talking with her?

You're in your 30s! You can decide for yourself. So, no, it's not even close to "wrong" to continue talking.

If it makes you feel better, then you can say to your mom/dad: "I understand, you don't want me to be in touch with X. If you have a specific reason for this, then please spell it out for me so I can judge for myself. Otherwise I will assume it's just old resentments."

You are under zero obligation to say this. I'm just throwing it out there if you want to lay down a marker of some kind, a "spill it or leave me alone."

Contact your local domestic abuse hotline. Your dad is a stalker.

Remember, too, that you're not always Exactly This Way in every single interaction on every single day. As introverted as I am, I can still sometimes go to an event — especially one I want to be at, involving something that interests me — and absorb some of the energy of the room. That doesn't change the fact that most of the time I need a lot of quiet time to buffer similar events. Myers Briggs isn't a job description, it's (at best) a rough average.

Another way to handle it - depict the deep sadness you’re feeling, as opposed to the anger and revenge fantasies that are preoccupying you. You seem to be turning your grief into anger - try accessing the grief more directly and see what happens.

Caveat: I'm not a tech person. But I think it should be possible to create a main email in box that contains addresses you've white-listed. Let all other email, including missives from your father's sock puppets, go into an in box that you don't check very often. When you're feeling strong, go through that box, checking for anything that seems like it might be desirable or important. Delete everything else. If you are never feeling strong, deputize a good friend to do that job for you. Send that person chocolate.

Detective fiction writer Sue Grafton said in interviews that it was rage at her ex-husband that got her started on her series of novels.

EBay is full of like-new, unused craft supplies at rock bottom prices. Lots of yarn stashes being cleared out by family after an older knitter passes away, for instance.

I read that question and though, "[expletive], she's being stalked!" Just because stalkers are usually a perversion of a romantic relationship doesn't mean that you can't have a family stalker. Maybe there's less of a risk of escalating danger in this case, I wouldn't know, but I'm not sure I'd want to risk it -- how mad is Dad going to get when he continues to get rebuffed? Absolutely talk to a lawyer, and start documenting.

Whoa. You whizzed past the husband, named early in the question. What is he doing to make things better? The writer shouldn't have to be doing 2 jobs now (toddler and work), she has to be doing 1-1/2, splitting the toddler with the husband.

No, he's plugged into the same formula. He's 1 person who used to do A or B in 24 hours, now also doing A and B. I just was streamlining. Sorry I didn't spell that out. Single parents have it harder right now, significantly, but a second working parent at home is still a Pez situation. 

I have no anything for "splitting the toddler" right now. 

Look into getting a civil restraining order. The barrier in most jurisdictions is pretty low, and this will be something you can use to get various electronic platforms (ISPs, social media, etc.) to help you block him. And read The Gift of Fear. This doesn't really rise to the level of abuse, but it is definitely harassment, and the advice on establishing boundaries is sound.

For the kid with expensive yarn needs: sometimes you get yarn for cheaper by buying nice old sweater/blankets second hand and then unravelling them. Maybe your kids can help brainstorm ideas to get supplies for cheaper?

Put the great global unraveling to good use!

(This is usually when I check to see how close to 3 pm we are.)

Have you (or the kids, if they're old enough) sought out other resources for the equipment & supplies? For example - hand dyed yarn - there are a lot of people who started to knit then quit. Have you put out a request via facebook or your neighborhood website to see if anyone has similar yarn they're no longer going to use? You may save some $ here, or even get free stuff. You don't get if you don't ask.

Just a suggestion. Bring the kids on board by sitting down with them and husband and budgeting for their hobbies...i.e. you can dedicate x number of $$ and they have control on what they buy for hobbies. Brainstorm alternatives to expensive items...and encourage monthly savings.

Always here for a teachable moment. 

 

I suspect a lot of parents have been regarding the new school year as the light at the end of the tunnel. But it turns out that for most of us in the DC area, September just means adding mandatory online meetings for our kids for several hours a day. For the K-3 set, this means a parent has to be at the kid's elbow while these are happening. And then, of course, there's the independent learning, which isn't spontaneously generated without parental involvement, either. A lot of us were drowning already, and we've just been thrown an anchor. There is no safe way for schools to open in September, so what do we do now? I'm pitchfork-and-torch angry about the public health failures that have put us in this position, but that's not exactly helping my mental health. I'd like my kids to learn how to read. I'm also hoping to remain employed. And I'm one of the lucky ones with a work from home job, flexible hours and a sympathetic employer. Just... AAAAAUGH. I'm so mad and sad and this doesn't feel like a temporary thing with an end date any more.

Yes, yessssssss. 

But it is temporary and there will be an end date. We just don't know when it is, which is rage-making and kid-numbing and job-threatening. I hear you.

So I'll offer up another completely inadequate suggestion to take breaks and breathe as needed, and raise whatever hell you have the time/energy/wherewithal to raise, and remind yourself liberally that you will get by. When thinking about It All is too much, then think about the next hour or two. You can do an hour.

I am a physician working in a hospital on the front-lines of the pandemic. While I never saw this as a short term issue, it is becoming more and more apparent that it will exist in some life-altering ways for at least a year, especially if public health guidelines remain secondary to other interests. I have done really well for the most part with all of it, jumping into projects I didn't previously have time for, crafts, correspondence, etc. but I've kinda used up all those things. I don't have a lot more ideas for things I want to spend my time on outside of work. My brother's family has locked down strictly as his wife has health problems. I think it's wise but still hard not to be able to see them regularly. And at the center of it is a growing despair with the job I've worked so hard to do. This is the only thing I ever really wanted to do. I've spent my whole life getting here, because I love to be able to help people and use a vast array of knowledge to solve problems. But every day now, I see some conspiracy theory about how doctors are making money to lie about the numbers. Another conspiracy about how we're keeping effective treatments away from patients for some reason. Or watching another person spout off about not having to wear a mask because of "liberty", while we continue to go to work masked every day and expose ourselves and our families to all of the risks. I'm so disheartened by a job that I once loved and it's compounded by the loneliness of not seeing family and not having a lot to do outside of work that feels fulfilling. I'm working on getting to a therapist, but it's a long wait right now. I'm just trying to figure out how to get through this next year like this. Though I'm not sure how I'll ever regain that love for helping people, when it's so clear that many of them wouldn't ever lift a finger to help others.

Many of them, but not most. remember, this great "many" of the unlifted fingers are getting way WAY more exposure than their numbers would otherwise warrant. They're news as outliers and WT[H]-prompters. I don't think I'm going too far out of my lane here in saying the majority, possibly a vast one, would pretzel themselves to give you what you need if they had a chance to.

In other words, I don't think needs are going unmet because people are too apathetic or rage-and-conspiracy addled to meet them; I think there's just a vast disconnection due to the nature of the crisis and the nature of our society between people in need and people who want to give.

On a practical level, a few suggestions, a couple--as threatened--I've already used today. Give yourself a mental break, or an actual one if you can. Let yourself off the hook for not having it all under control or figured out or managed to your satisfaction. See the suck and say ... something unprintable to it. And, don't think about "this next year," think about this weekend. This afternoon. Whatever is small enough not to seem overwhelming.

And, in your mental-break time, don't try to think about what to do next with your projects. Just escape. 

If/when rested, you will get better ideas for productive passage of time. Learn an instrument, a language? Read/watch a really long series? Write letters? I'd like to crowd-source this, dammit, and it's already 2:30.

But also, don't take my mentioning this as an invitation or imperative to find some grand Something to do. Shift into just-getting-by, self-care mode for as long as your weary soul needs. 

And thank you for your dedication to trying to save us, even when it's from ourselves.

There are a lot of possible explanations for your parents' dislike of his family, from the relatively petty to the deeply horrible. Maybe they dissed your mother when he introduced her to them, or maybe they're covering up a history of child abuse. You apparently only have online contact with this aunt, which as we all know can be very deceptive. By all means keep in contact with her at your choice, not your parents', but also keep your eyes open.

This grind is a bit much, and there are so many things that are out of our control. Finding small ways to celebrate each day is so important to our mental health. Gratitude practice along with mindfulness, even in small doses is one way to fhelp us deal with the unknown. We have added a bit of gratitude at the end of dinner each night - 'Dinner accomplished, and another day closer to the end of the pandemic.' Everyone is then expected to add one thing they appreciate. Sometimes it's just that we had fries for dinner - a rarity in this household.

Donna Britt--formerly a columnist here, some of you will remember--just wrote beautifully about gratitude: LINK

 

It seems possible that Nancy has blanked on your wife's name if you haven't seen each other in 20 years. I have a couple of friends from college who met their spouses after college and I have only met a couple times, and I know they're married but could not tell you their names for the life of me (and, indeed in one case I am not 100% certain they are still married to the same person that I met).

"I'll take 'Menopausal brain fog' for 200, Alex."

Thank you for what you do. There are many people out here who fully support what you are doing and the efforts to contain the virus - we just don't make for good tv/internet videos. :)

Think about all the money you're not spending by being stuck at home all year-- sports registration, prom dresses, summer camps, even birthday parties, trips to the zoo, admission to the waterpark, karate lessons, music lessons, etc. I think its reasonable for that money to go to at home entertainment for the kids. (at least that's what I tell myself when I order my toddler another toy)

Great point, thank you.

Oh that list though. Devastating. 

No solutions, but suggestions that have worked for me sometimes. 1) Stop consuming so much news. 2) Audiobooks. Just let somebody read to you.

So soothing. And I used to hate being read to, since it felt so slow. Audiobooks (or non-current-event podcasts) plus a jigsaw puzzle were my go-to for anxiety during lockdown. 

Several of our friends with young kids have been talking about setting up a rotating homeschool pod with a handful of other trusted families. You can set it up to best address each household's schedule, but the idea that one parent handles teaching, and gives the other parents time to work on a rotating schedule. I don't know the legal parameters of switching to homeschool, and check your district, but that may be the best option to regain -some- control over this situation. At least then you would not be beholden to a 6 year old's videoconference schedule (or the whims of the morons in charge).

The bride's momma is a controlling buttinski. If her daughter isn't an adult, her daughter should not be getting married. Run, groom, run! See groom run.

Snort.

I keep reminding myself that, percentage wise, there are way fewer people not caring than those who would do anything to help. But I keep coming back to the reality that those few who call this disaster a hoax and/or won't participate, say by wearing masks, have so much power, and I don't mean just to decide what they want to do. Their actions impact each and every one of us, and you don't need many spreaders to keep us locked in place. I am usually a doer, have been my whole life, but it is hard to let go of the anger I feel for the situation we find ourselves in when it didn't have to be this way. Thank you, Dr. Ennui. I hear you.

Optimist view: 1. Their numbers are dwindling as the reality sinks in; 2. Maybe this is the scale of the disaster needed to beat back the growing influence of the irrational on our society.

I have to step a way for 2 min--brb.

Just a small thing, but one that helps mom-of-three me: When I start to despair, I remember how far we've actually made it. Maybe we've made it through on mac-and-cheese dinners, too much screen time and questionable schooling. But nevertheless, we're here, six months into this thing. This time next year, we will almost assuredly have a vaccine and better treatments. We. Will. Get. Through. This. We've already come so far. The middle of things is always hard. It helps me, at least, to remember that I'm in the middle, no longer at the start of a long and arduous path.

Inspiring books...or delving into spiritual beliefs that suit you. Every day I look at wisdoms from a wide variety of sources to get me going. The Salutation to the Dawn. The Dale Carnegie books have wonderful inspirational stories which get me in the glass half full mentality. Mr. Rogers said something like, "It's who lifts you up, not who brings you down". Keeping my mind on those who are the helpers, like you, and what they have done, is inspirational. There are 3-D jigsaw puzzles - there's a cool one of the Taj Mahal.

Two thoughts: 1. As a doctor working on the front lines of the pandemic, you literally don't see the non-medical people who do or would lift a finger to help others. The way for non-medical people to help during a pandemic is primarily by staying home to stop the virus from spreading, and you don't see us when we're all tucked up in our homes. Also, since you're treating pandemic patients, the proportion of virulent anti-maskers in your patient base is going to be far greater than in the general population. 2. If you don't have any ideas on what you want to spend your time doing outside of work, designate some time to spend doing nothing. "This Saturday, I will do nothing productive whatsoever!" See what you end up doing to while away the time (gaming? rereading old books? staring into space doing absolutely nothing?) and see if there's anything you find yourself wishing you could do but you aren't allowed to do anything productive. Both will be informative.

Should the bride's parents be asking the groom's parents for anything? If anyone is asking groom's parents to chip in, shouldn't it be....wait for it...bride and groom?

=:-O

Oh please. School districts are doing the best they can. This was entirely uncalled for.

That's fair. I saw it as a more general swipe at the lack of leadership that got us into this mess, but upon rereading it does look like beating up on people with thankless jobs.

Are you close enough to nature to go walk in the woods? I live in the woods and it helps, a lot. Unfortunately it doesn't do a single thing about the lonliness (OMG the effin' lonliness of all this!!).

Thank you for all you have done and all you are doing. It may not feel like it, but I do think most of us do care, and do understand, and our doing our part to help you, as much as we can. It’s hard to see all the selfishness and unkindness, much harder for you I know - but there are many of us who do get it, and are staying home, to protect you as well as ourselves. Thank you.

FWIW, in my little part of the world (in a major metropolitan city)--we are wearing masks in stores and outside. I haven't heard of any temper tantrums in stores. My group of friends all wear masks and are pretty careful. Same for my friends on FB. (Am I in a bubble--yes. But why would I be friends with people who don't value the life and health of people around them? Immediate disqualification for friendship in my book). The point is, we are following the rules and being safe, but we don't make the news. We discuss amongst ourselves constantly if X activity or Y activity is safe and modify our behaviors accordingly. We ARE listening to you and other scientists/doctors/nurses/health care providers and are so frickin' grateful for everything you have sacrificed and are doing to keep us healthy. Thank you, and I'm sorry for the buttheads out there.

About a month into the lockdown I listened to an audio version of Pema Chodron's "The Places That Scare You." It was life changing and has made navigating this period palatable. I even find joy occasionally.

New to me--I'll check it out, thanks.

Please know many of us are appalled at the non maskers and conspiracy spouters. I am very grateful to those on the medical front lines. Please accept a cyber hug from all of us who care deeply and appreciate you. Turn off the news and social media for a while and do something for yourself.

This is probably not much help in the short term, but this pandemic has surely thrown a wrench into the relentless wheels of accomplishing this by age X, applying for that by age Y, and having this that and the other achievement to show in a regimented set of months and years. Your kid will learn to read and do long division and dissect a frog, just not necessarily in the time frame we've rigidly alloted to those things. The next year or two are going to be bumpy, and we don't know how things are going to go over the longer term either, but a lot of things are going to change, and I hope that the overly regimented education system is one of them.

Thank you for this. I came across a version of it in response to mention that kids would be "behind" thanks to covid: The person asked, "Behind what?" Meaning, arbitrary standards of what kids "should" do or be. 

Now, there are serious equity issues as well, and those are different and can't be brushed away. Children of means will have access to more learning and enrichment than others when schools are closed, thereby widening education and skill gaps, and exacerbating one of the biggest problems we have as a society--and I don't have an answer to that except we need to be aware it's happening and demand of leadership that it be a priority use of any money and ingenuity directed toward education.

Maybe it’s just my contrarian nature, but I think getting through a day is probably enough right now, especially but not only for those in the frontlines, like Dr. Ennui. Cut yourself some slack, Dr. Ennui - you’re already doing more than your share. You don’t have to “produce” anything else.

I am a reasonable, even tempered person who rarely angers because I can always see the other person's point of view, even if I don't agree with them. I have worked in bereavement counselling, in municipal politics, and have extensive experience with family members with mental health issues. I have a natural talent for listening, offer advice only if specifically asked ( I actually say " do you want my advice, or are you asking to be heard?"), and actually become calmer the more upset the other person is. In short, I have a ton of friends and family who call and love to chat about their problems - which until recently i have enjoyed. I haven't even noticed the complete lack of interest in my life. I know I can ask them to ask me questions about my life, and I realize I have set a pattern where our relationship is not ever about me...but seriously, have they all been so shallow and I haven't notice, or am I just depressed? Obviously, not really a question. I just wanted someone to see me. thanks for all you do with this chat.

You're welcome, and thanks for the kind words.

I'm sorry you're stuck in a role. I really do think that's what it is--kind of the way parents see grown kids as the children they were and not the adults they are. Habit. Might be time to make some new connections, if at all possible under current conditions. Or tell your truth to someone you already know and trust not to fumble it.

Ken Burns' documentaries. They're long, informative, and will sometimes inadvertently help you get to sleep at night.

Dear Doc, so appreciate you and other healthcare workers. I wonder if you could look out for a role, even a temporary shift, away from direct patient care, or on routine healthcare. This might give you a little less direct exposure to the awfulness. Thank you for all you do.

Could Dr. Ennui go over to his brother's (sounds like they live nearby?) and have an outside outing, where he sits about 12 feet away from his brother and SIL and hang out? My friend is doing that with her parents, she comes over every Sunday with her family and they have dinner together outside.

First of all -- Thank you for all you do! I'm sending a virtual hug. Secondly, two suggestions: would your brother's family be willing to have a game time -- either regularly or occasionally? I've been playing Scattergories and Code Names with a friend and her family via Skpe. Such fun and a nice visit, but without the pressure of having a MEANINGFUL visit. Or maybe watch the same movies and meet via zoom to discuss? With another friend we are watching all the Academy Award winning movies -- we each watch the same movie sometime during the week and then meet on zoom for a Sunday virtual happy hour to discuss. We're up to the mid-1940's!

Maybe this is just me, but I have found recently that "distracting" TV isn't necessarily that distracting anymore... except for things with subtitles! I think it's because I really have to focus 100% on the program and not also look at my phone, think about what else I should be doing, run to put something in the oven.... Just sharing in case that helps anyone else!

Agreed that the current situation is unsustainable, but I find myself wondering what is at the root of it all. Does boyfriend have any hobbies or activities? Do you as a coule do anything physical together, like walks or bike rides? If so, is he vaping during the activity? Maybe he needs something that will keep his (hands,insecurities,addictions) busy enough to help break the cycle.

For the first questioner, a model work of art would be the Mountain Goats' "No Children," one of my favorite songs ever, and definitely the funniest one about a dying, self-destructive marriage. (It doesn't sound it out of context, but the chorus is hilarious: "And I hope you die; I hope we both die.")

New to me, sounds promising!

Or: The Chicks, "Goodbye Earl."

With suggestion that OP use art to release anger - Alanis Morissette's "You Oughta Know" came to mind. She seems like a good example of someone who deals with pent up aggressions through the creative process.

Another good one.

Ms Hax, Why do you keep reprinting not so old letters, instead of developing new responses to new queries. The first letter of today’s letter was answered by both Ask Amy on the same day only a few months ago. Now we see it again. Why phone your work in?

I've seen this complaint before multiple times. Can't you come up with a new one instead of phoning it in?

To answer it, again: People submit to multiple columns, and I can't stop them, and I don't read all the other columns to find out whether something has run somewhere else. I just write my own answer and carry on with my life.

I am a family-law lawyer, and this young lady should consult a lawyer about criminal stalking charges and/or a restraining order. She should not have to put up with this.

Okay, okay, that's it. 3:26, I need to go back into my crate.

Thank you everybody for stopping by and for the many supportive comments for people who are struggling. Best wishes for relief to those who need it, a good weekend, a little inspiration, a little grace. Type to you here next week.

 

I've been binge-watching The Good Place, watching a group of the not-very-best people gradually learn how to care for someone other than themselves. It reminds me that I'm not the worst person around, but that there's always room for improvement. And it makes me laugh.

YES. I was blown away. I almost didn't stay with it, because it reveals itself so gradually, but obviously I'm glad I did.

In This Chat
Carolyn Hax
Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997 as a weekly feature for The Washington Post, accompanied by the work of "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis. The column has since gone daily and into syndication, where it appears in over 200 newspapers. Carolyn joined The Post in 1992 as a copy editor in Style, and became a news editor before turning to writing full-time. She is the author of "Tell Me About It" (Miramax, 2001), and the host of a live online discussion on Fridays at noon on washingtonpost.com. She lives in New England with her husband and their three boys.
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